By Jonathan Borge
Updated Oct 14, 2015 @ 12:15 pm
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Credit: Courtesy of Essence

Empire’s grande dame may have greeted viewers with, “The name is Cookie. Ask about me,” during the hit show’s first season, but since then the over-the-top character has proved to need no introduction. And that's precisely why the character’s Taraji P. Henson gleams on the cover of Essence's November issue. Dressed in a black double-slit Fausto Puglisi dress that showcases the countless hours she spends inside the gym, Henson is a vision of glamour with a sleek parted 'do and a dramatic dose of eye shadow.

In the cover story, photographed by Dennis Leupold and styled by Jason Rembert, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actress opens up about her rise to fame and the work that moves her. “Even though people are just now finding me as Cookie—thank God for Netflix because people are so moved by my performance they’re like, ‘Where has she been?’—I’ve always said I want to do the type of work that people study,” she says in the issue, which also features the actress in an array of outfits that are as eye-catching as Cookie would expect, like a Salvatore Ferragamo wool cape and dress with daring Christian Louboutin pumps and a pair of Lorraine Schwartz earrings (below).

Credit: Courtesy Essence

Also impressive, along with her untouchable style, is the star’s work ethic, something Henson credits for her success and arrival into Hollywood’s spotlight. “I’m satisfied with the path because I was clear. I didn’t compare myself to people,” she says. “[After an Oscar nomination for 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button] people said, ‘This is gonna change everything for you.’ I’m glad I didn’t believe that hype. I never got caught up in that stuff. I just stayed the course and worked hard and every role I did, I put my everything into it. Everything that I did got me here, and I wouldn’t change it or trade it for the world.”

For more of Henson, pick up Essence’s November #LifeGoals issue on newsstands Friday, Oct. 16—and tune in to Empire tonight at 9 p.m. on Fox.